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October 2004   

Interview: The Last Bastian
AMWU state secretary Paul Bastian has been at the centre of the three year battle to bring James Hardie to account.

Unions: High and Dry
Jim Marr unpacks the recent High Court Electrolux decision to test whether the ruling matches the media hype.

Security: Liquid Borders
The Howard Government loves to trumpet its national security credentials but a close look at its record in shipping sinks the myth argues MUAís Zoe Reynolds.

Industrial: No Bully For You
Phil Doyle reports on how bringing dignity and respect to the workplace is undermining bullies.

History: Radical Brisbane
Radical Brisbane extends the 'Radical City' series into the Red North. Two experienced activists, academics and writers turn South East Queensland history on its head.

International: No Vacancies
More than 1400 hotel union workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2, are on strike at four major hotels in San Francisco, California, writes Andrew Casey.

Economics: Life After Capitalism
A situation that all anarchists dream of? Michael Albert has been more than dreaming., writes Neale Towart

Technology: Cyber Winners
Labourstart's Eric Lee looks at a good news story of global online campaigning that has delivered a victory.

Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Teaser: Wondering why the polls are all over the place? Ask our resident bard and psephologist.

Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Voice of Southern Labor highlights the role music played in the 1930's US textile strikes, but more than that it provides a lucid insight into the roots of modern capitalism and some truly organic organising, writes Tara de Boehmler.


True Lies
Labor Council secretary John Robertson argues Itís Time Ė for an IR reality check.

The Westie Wing
Much work has been done in the past to ease the plight of clothing outworkers in New South Wales. It's time to step up the pressure, as sweatshops and clothing contract work are thriving stronger than ever, writes Ian West.

The Soapbox
Who Started the Class War?
Evan Jones looks across the Australian political landscape and asks who are the real class warriors?

The Locker Room
First Past The Post
Phil Doyle is coming up in class and is all the better for recent racing

Westie Wing
Our favourite state MP returns for his monthly Macquarie Street wrap.

Positive Action
Australian unionists are helping give hope to Filipino workers living with HIV/AIDS.


The Premiership Quarter
After spending the past month with a decidedly sinking feeling, thereís a whiff of hope and expectation that the Howard era could actually be coming to an end.


 Kev Cooks the Books

 Black Hole In Libs Kids Plan

 Xerox Copies Waterfront Tactics

 Hardies Asbestos Woes "Snowballs"

 Air Fleet Grounded By Job Cuts

 Musos Lung For Better

 Customs Officers Declare

 Dumbing Down The Trades

 Pacific National Sidetracks Hunter Jobs

 Witch Hunt For Whistleblower

 Black Diamond Deaths Spark Mining Inquiry

 Pensioners Strip Over Pension Strip

 Activists What's On!

 Donkey Vote
 Problem Solved
 How To Run Society
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True Lies

Labor Council secretary John Robertson argues Itís Time Ė for an IR reality check.

Listening to the Howard Government and his big business cheer squad carry on about the ALP's industrial relations policy, one could be forgiven for thinking our modern economy was about to collapse and revert to some sort of socialist netherworld.

The Chicken Littles are running around conjuring up images of union officials in grey cardigans busting through the front door to tie reluctant workers to the yoke of collectivism. Their industrial relations scare campaign makes Children Overboard look downright subtle.

So what would an industrial relations system under a federal Labor Government look like?

You only need to turn to the NSW state system on which Craig Emerson's blueprint is based - a system that accounts for 60 per cent of the workforce in Australia's largest state economy.

NSW was the first state to deregulate its industrial relations system under the Greiner-Fahey governments. It was also the first state to restore some balance through the Carr Government's 1996 Industrial Relation Act.

That piece of legislation was the result of a truly consultative process where employer and union representatives worked with government to create a model that promoted fairness and cooperation in the workplace, underpinned by a strong award system and independent industrial umpire.

It has delivered a system where the NSW Industrial Relations Commission had both the confidence of the parties and the power to ensure these principles were advanced.

The NSW IRC has the power to compel parties to arbitration, an authority that has actually minimise disputation because parties know there will be no 'winner take all' outcome at the end of the process.

While there is a legislative process to simplify all awards, they contain the sort of provisions that John Howard has purged from the federal system and claims would lead the nation down the path to ruin.

These include such outrageous provisions as blood donors leave, provision of tea, coffee and drinking water, minimum and maximum part time hours, apprentice levels, provision for first aid and amenities and deduction of union dues. None of these provisions have led to the collapse of a single company, let alone the economy.

Major projects are covered by awards that bring together all unions and provide a stable industrial relations framework - the Sydney Olympics construction project, delivered on time and under budget, for example, was covered by a specific enterprise award.

The NSW system allows for another of the Coalition's bogeys - the right for a trade union official to enter a workplace where the union has coverage to speak to the workers - in fact, these types of provisions already exist at a federal level as well.

Where this power has been used, union officials have uncovered illegal sweatshops, unsafe construction sites and major taxation and payroll fraud. A few businesses may well have suffered adversely, but only when they were acting against the law and placing their workers in physical or material danger.

The NSW system also has a specific objective of providing "a framework for the conduct of industrial relations that is fair and just" - and gives the Commission the power to put these considerations at the centre of its deliberations - balanced by a discreet objective to "to promote efficiency and productivity in the economy of the State".

These objects have provided the framework for some groundbreaking test cases - including the landmark 1999 Ministerial Reference into Gender Pay Equity and the current Secure Employment Test Case.

These cases may well have delivered a modicum of dignity for working people; but have they - as John Howard, Hugh Morgan and co assert - delivered an economic basket case?

Let's look at the numbers: NSW is by far Australia's biggest economy; in 2003 it constituted 35 per cent of the national output; 45 per cent of the nation's top 500 companies are based here - clearly they are not scared off by the NSW industrial relations system.

NSW accounts for 42 per cent of all jobs in Australia, enjoys the highest Gross State Product, the most high tech jobs and the cheapest electricity prices in mainland Australia.

Far from squeezing productivity out of the state, any impartial observer would have to say that to the extent that the NSW system represents re-regulation, it does so in a tempered, cooperative and outcomes driven manner.

The reason the Coalition and the likes of the BCA hate this model is that it provides a counter to the winner takes all, survival of the fittest model that has been advanced federally since 1996.

Unions do not expect a Labor Government to do our work for us, all we ask is for a fair system where we can get on and do our job - representing the interests of our members - secure jobs, decent wages and a stab le economy.

John Robertson is the secretary of the NSW Labor Council


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